On a show called Captain Midnight, we worked with a director called Linzee Smith from the legendary Pram factory in Melbourne. Linzee is mentioned briefly in this blog.
It was an ensemble production. We had all auditioned and we were called into the theatre - then the gorgeous Hale street building - a rare case of an architect-designed theatre really working. La Boite - french for The Box - was really that: theatre in the round, or rather in the square, on all four sides (although transformable to thrust).
So there we were, all dotted around the seating area and Linzee seated just as we were, the delicious air conditioning a respite from the Brisbane heat. There was a pause and Linzee began to speak. he looked around into each of our 20 plus faces and called each of us by name.
This made a deep impression on me. I felt adult. It felt democratic. This first simple action was incredibly powerful. It meant he had paid close attention to us in the audition process. It laid a ground of equality. It gave a sense of the group being held together by something, and led by something greater than hierarchy.
Many years later I was in London and attending a workshop led by Theatre du Mouvement. We stood in a circle and Claire Heggen and Yves Marc taught us a name learning game. I've been at many workshops and this is the only game I know where a group of up to 60 people (yes I tried it once and it worked) can learn each other's names. Time and again I have used this and it transforms a group of strangers to a group who all feel present and included.
Here's the exercise:
Person one looks at the group and says their name. Their name only not 'Hi, I'm Alison.' That's their moment to be present with themselves and the group, with their name. Person two (on one's left) looks at person one and addresses them with their name and then addresses the group with their own. E.g. 'Alison. Murat.' Person three: 'Alison, Murat, Teresa.' Round about here you'll get a frisson of laughter and fear from everyone on the right of the circle. At this point I usually say; 'Ah, so you've just realized what's happening here, the horror! Important to know that this is not a competition, it's not a test, people on either side can help you. You can help each other.'
At the half way point it's fun to stop and invite people to read the body language. 'relaxed on the left and tense on the right!' and to remind people to help each other out if necessary.
When working with a group that know each other I say; 'This is to help me, but it's also to help you. You get to practice eye contact and being present with your own name....I know, the horror of saying one's own name!' If someone falters, both parties can be embarrassed. I joke; 'In this game, people forget the names of those they love the best! Sometimes people even forget their own names.'
With a nervous group of strangers, just play the game. In a drama school you might notice if people are ticking people off like a list and mention - 'you are greeting them'.
Be sensitive to rare instances where someone may find getting things right under pressure overwhelming.
Before doing this game I usually get people to look into each other's eyes and connect, and sometimes also teach Casting the Net - see my post 1/31/2015.